Odom’s condition shines light on dangers of poorly-regulated supplements

As the media attempts to make sense of former pro basketball player Lamar Odom’s bizarre situation that resulted in him lying in a hospital near death, a report comes out in the NEJM showing that dietary supplements cause serious adverse affects that send people to the emergency room at an alarming rate.

Odom spent three days in a Nevada brothel where he reportedly took cocaine and 10 herbal supplement tablets. It was initially reported that the supplement was Reload, a “72-hour strong sexual enhancement for men”. Toxicology results have not yet been released. But if it is true that he took this “herbal Viagra”, it may have contributed to his (potentially fatal) condition. In 2013, the FDA warned specifically against this product:

FDA laboratory analysis confirmed that “Reload” contains sildenafil, the active ingredient in the FDA-approved prescription drug Viagra, used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). This undeclared ingredient may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs such as nitroglycerin and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels.

‘Herbal viagra’: Is it safe? – Mayo Clinic

Supplements are less regulated and cheaper than prescription drugs for similar conditions. Not only may they not be effective, they could be deadly since what is in them is not controlled like regulated drugs that have a demonstrated effect. Thus, they can contain unlisted substances that could be an allergy or poisoning risk or they could contain prohibited substances like metals or potent substances. The potential hazards are real, yet they are legal.

Police said the sexual-performance supplements ingested by Odom were legal and were obtained from the Love Ranch. Dennis Hof, the owner of the Love Ranch, claimed on Wednesday that the brothel did not offer supplements to its visitors, despite advertising “Viagra” parties on its website.


In this latest study released yesterday about averse effects from supplements, researchers used data from 63 emergency departments obtained from 2004 through 2013.

Emergency Department Visits for Adverse Events Related to Dietary Supplements — NEJM

An estimated 23,000 emergency department visits in the United States every year are attributed to adverse events related to dietary supplements. Such visits commonly involve cardiovascular manifestations from weight-loss or energy products among young adults and swallowing problems, often associated with micronutrients, among older adults.

65.9% of emergency department visits for single-supplement–related adverse events involved herbal or complementary nutritional products.

The most cited use of the products was for weight loss. See more on potential harm from weight loss supplements here.

Thus, the evidence continues to mount that these easy-to-obtain products have significant potential hazards that costs society in more ways that in dollars.

According to Orac’s perspective, Odom’s outlook is NOT good since there is word of multiple organ failure. While this is a complicated case, it may bring much more needed attention to the serious risk of downing “all natural” supplement as if they were harmless.

  14 comments for “Odom’s condition shines light on dangers of poorly-regulated supplements

  1. October 16, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    One would think that Mr. Odom could have had a doctor prescribe him Viagra – why take an unregulated “herb”?

    The other thing this story has highlighted, based on the comments sections many news sites have, is the tendency for a lot of people to blame the Kardashians for this. I was stunned by how many hateful, sexist comments I have read that placed the blame solely on those women.

    Despite the fact that this is an adult who was using drugs well before he met any of them, who has a history of making bad choices, and who no doubt has many hangers-on who were more than happy to supply any drug he wanted. Even his father, who is a heroin addict, stated that his son “must have been drugged”. Um yeah, drugged by his own hand.

    It’s always the woman’s fault. Sheesh.

  2. Charles P. Lamb
    October 16, 2015 at 5:49 PM

    While government regulation may mitigate the danger I would’ve written the headline as, “Odom’s condition shines light on dangers of ingesting unknown amounts of unknown chemicals”

  3. One Eyed Jack
    October 17, 2015 at 4:50 PM

    That headline would be a bit off point. “Unknown chemicals” encompasses everything from supplements to rat poison and anti-freeze.

    Sharon’s title is on point. Supplements give the impression that they are safe when the truth is that they are nearly completely unregulated. People to think they are taking something harmless because it often comes in the same sort of packaging as regulated pharmaceuticals. That is a problem specific to supplements. Nobody thinks drinking anti-freeze is safe.

  4. BobM
    October 17, 2015 at 6:34 PM

    I had the same thought. Surely he has enough money to buy the real thing. But then it’s not “natural”.

  5. October 18, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    Could it be because the brothel provided it? It would be clearly illegal to provide real viagra so could that be why it was the herbal stuff?

  6. Christine Rose
    October 18, 2015 at 12:10 PM

    The Washington Post (and other outlets) are stating that he purchased a legal herbal supplement called “Reload” from the brothel and had taken at least 10 tablets in the days before his hospitalization. Reload has been cited by the FDA for putting actual sildenafil (generic Viagra) in its tablets.

    Who knows what was in the tablets he took–possibly he had different batches with entirely different ingredients.

  7. Richard
    October 18, 2015 at 12:34 PM
  8. Headless Unicorn Guy
    October 18, 2015 at 5:21 PM

    OD’ing on an OTC boner pill in a WHOREHOUSE?
    Why am I not surprised?

    P.S. The Reality Show cast & crew for The Kardashians have pretty much taken over that hospital; Reality Show taping 24/7. Alive, brain-dead, or just dead, Odom’s great for the Ratings!

  9. October 19, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    Odom took so many drugs his death may not indicate anything about supplement. But – wouldn’t you think anyone who takes anything would want the ingredients truthfully displayed? After all, big business (read that as evil) makes supplements, too. But then, I don’t really understand… at my local co-op, everything is organic and marketed as healthier, but they also have a huge supplement section – why both?

  10. RayG
    October 19, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    Not only does it point out the problem with herbal “supplements”, it highlights how low the media has sunk. Hourly updates for an overpaid, overdosed known drug addict driven to destruction by the celebrity driven media machine. Really? This is more important than real world problems, how?

    Say he WAS pumped on the REAL viagra, along with the drugs and the booze? The same arguments would be made about the ‘dangers’ of Viagra. As of right now, and until those Tox reports come in, there is NO evidence that the supplements caused this. Too much coke or booze can do the same damage that has been reported.

    It also highlights that fame and money dont make you smart… Usually just brings out the stupid even more.

  11. One Eyed Jack
    October 19, 2015 at 4:12 PM

    Because the crowd that incorrectly believes organic means healthier is the same crowd that buys supplements.

  12. Headless Unicorn Guy
    October 21, 2015 at 2:18 AM

    Couple days later, yet another breathless headline came out:

    Odom got ROLLED when he OD’d in the whorehouse.

    Again, why am I not surprised?

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy
    October 21, 2015 at 2:23 AM

    Not only does it point out the problem with herbal “supplements”, it highlights how low the media has sunk. Hourly updates for an overpaid, overdosed known drug addict driven to destruction by the celebrity driven media machine. Really?

    B-but he’s a CELEBRITY(TM)!!!!!
    He’s associated with (gasp, with trembling lips) THE KARDASHIANS(TM)!!!!!

    (The Kardashians. Paris Hilton wannabes who became (gasp) CELEBRITIES(TM) — Reality Show and All — because Daddy was one of OJ’s defense “dream team”. That’s it.)

    And that should be “Hourly updates on all media for a guy who OD’d on boner pills in a whorehouse (and got rolled in the process).”

  14. October 22, 2015 at 6:15 PM

    You’re right, of course. But it makes my head hurt.

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